Thao people

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Er nd 3014 Thao.jpg
Thao/Ngan young man of Sun Moon Lake, Nantou, Taiwan ca 1904
Total population
626 (2008)
Regions with significant populations
Mandarin, Taiwanese, Thao
Animism, Buddhism
Thao at Sun Moon Lake, photo from a 1926 brochure of the Government of Formosa

The Thao/Ngan (Chinese: 邵族; pinyin: Shào zú) are a small group of Taiwanese aborigines who have lived near Sun Moon Lake (Lake Candidius) in central Taiwan for at least a century, and probably since the time of the Qing dynasty. In the year 2000 the Thao/Ngan people numbered only 281, making them the smallest of all of the recognized aboriginals in Taiwan (a number of aboriginal peoples, both smaller and larger than the Thao in population, remain unrecognized by the Taiwanese governing authorities).[1]

They are the smallest of the Taiwanese aborigine group in terms of population and the smallest ethnic group in Taiwan. Despite their small group size, the Thao/Ngan have retained their customs, beliefs and traditional culture and language until now, though they have been assimilated into mainstream Chinese culture as well. Most of the members of this ethnic group work today as menial workers, cooks and vendors in the tourism industry at Sun Moon Lake. The Chi-Chi earthquake of 1999 damaged or destroyed 80% of the houses of the Thao/Ngan and made many of them lose employment.


The Thao/Ngan people have their own language, the Thao language, which is nearly extinct and spoken by only a few, mostly elders, of the (already small) Thao ethnic population. The language has been sinicized. Most people who speak Thao are bilingual or trilingual and can speak Mandarin Chinese and/or Taiwanese as well. The Thao/Ngan language is classified as a Paiwan language, and a Formosan language which is a geographical subgroup of the much larger Austronesian language family. The Thao language has loanwords from the Bunun language, spoken by the Bunun ethnic group of which the Thao/Ngan cooperated with as well as intermarried.


Here is the legend of why the Thao people live in the side of Sun Moon Lake.

The ancestors originally lived on an island in the middle of Sun Moon Lake. They then saw a deer and wanted to eat it, so they chased it until they arrived in the side of Sun Moon lake. Then the deer ran into the water, leaving the Thao by themselves. They could only wait. The Thao people then slept at Sun Moon Lake. One of the elders dreamed of a fairy in a white cloak. He said to them "I am the deer that led you here. This place is your promised land. Please don't leave, because generations will come."

Official recognition[edit]

On 15 August 2001, the Executive Yuan (Council) of Taiwan officially recognized the Thao/Ngan as the tenth ethnic group among Taiwan's indigenous peoples. The Thao have been mistakenly regarded as the "Tsou" (a separate and different ethnic group of aborigines) since the time of Japanese occupation. The error was caused by both a misunderstanding of the legend saying that "the ancestors of Thao were from the mountain Alishan (Mountain A Li)" and the similar pronunciation of ‘Thao/Ngan’ and ‘Tsou’. Thus, the domain of the Thaos/Ngans had been registered as "Tsous from the flatlands of the mountains" under the nine ethnic groups of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Blust, Robert (2003). Thao dictionary. Taipei: Institute of Linguistics (Preparatory Office), Academia Sinica. ISBN 9789570147858.

External links[edit]